Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Media or what is democracy all about

Adelina Marini, October 8, 2009

Lately more and more people in Bulgaria note that there is something wrong with Bulgarian media. And what is wrong is that they have for a long time stopped being what they should be by vocation. And that is - to inform precisely, clearly and truly the society of everything that happens within. To search and find information, to ask reasonable and well grounded questions, to require explanations from the government, the opposition, the companies and, in general, from everyone whose actions have direct implications on one or another civil group. At least, has it ever occurred to you to see what the editorial policy or the rules of behaviour your favourite newspaper, radio, TV has?

Like the other day in Facebook we discussed that the big world media have published on their websites tens of pages long rules of behaviour of their journalists, of the editors, of the public, etc. Media are called upon to solve problems, not to varnish them or report like parrots, furthermore in comfortable for the interested side light. All this is not happening in Bulgaria. The trend dates long back but now it got monstrous dimensions.

Professor K. Anthony Appiah, by the way, also discusses this topic in an opinion in the Washington Post of Wednesday. The occasion is tragic - yesterday it was three years from the death of Anna Politkovskaya - a Russian journalist, reporting on the war in Chechnya, murdered with 5 bullets as she entered her home. The author is a writer and a philosophy professor at Princeton University. "She was not the first Russian journalist to be slain for performing the invaluable function of bringing buried truths to light. Sadly, there have been, and will be, more murders. And we all pay the price", professor Appiah writes.

"Westerners were inclined to think during the Cold War that a democratic Russia would be better for Russians and for us. Yet 20 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, hopes for genuine democracy in Russia remain unrealized. A major reason is the parlous condition of the Russian media".

In Bulgaria the killing of journalists is rare. Quite often, after an attack on a journalist here doubts of their media hygiene start spreading. Yet, this does not make the situation less scary. The most terrifying thing is the auto-censorship which a lot of media and separate journalists impose on themselves voluntarily - either because the origin of media's money is questionable or because separate journalists see in our profession a nice occasion to get in touch with someone with power or because he or she has succumbed to the warnings not to write about something. But not because something bad will happen to her/him but because this would ruin the friendship. It is possible that a journalist has taken an advantage of his position to gain an apartment at a low price, just money or something third and he or she would not want to be exposed or lose the benefits.

Second comes the terrible trend private media to be turned instead of independent tribunes into tools by their owners. Such an example are the birthday parties of media where politicians of a very high level are often invited. What do we tell our audience with this? That we are close to the president Parvanov, to the prime minister Boyko Borisov, to the mayor, a minister? What good does this do to the public? What added value does the public get? None. That is why voting in Bulgaria acquired the sad name "uninformed choice". Or as professor Anthony Appiah writes: "The freedom of journalists to report about life in their societies is critical, because without it, citizens lose their freedom, too".

My personal opinion is that Bulgaria after 20 years after the start of the transition towards democracy and freedom, is not free. Its citizens are not free. They do not know what freedom is and what it's price is which is a paradox compared to the rest of the Eastern European state that got rid of the chains of the oppressive system, called by some socialism, by others - communism, by third - totalitarian. Because, if for 45 years you always had something in mind whether, when or in front of whom you can tell a political anecdote, now it is not quite clear why people do not strive for more information, more knowledge, more points of view.

On top of all this, the media put on the lid giving the public good looking barely clad women, destructively repulsive reality games, spoiling films, spoiling concerts. They also offer talk shows the only thing you can learn from is that the presenter is talking in familiar way with this or that or that he or she suffers from a severe form of self-love or that he/she would die if not on air because there is nothing more he/she can give to the public.

It is a fact that in the developed countries the freedom of speech has been fought with blood, likewise the civil freedom by the way. Our case is different - the evolution of our country had been interrupted many times during our long history. But this is not a reason to suffer from self-regret or to excuse ourselves with our fate and do nothing. Although our market economy is "contaminated" with grey capitals, it is not impossible for us to make our choice and stimulate our market economy which is still rudimentary to act - if you want knowledge, search for it somewhere else. The more the audience of a media diminishes, the less revenues it will get. Finally, if we really do have even rudimentary form of market economy, this media would either disappear from the market or put itself together and start offering a reasonable product.

Yes, someone might say that Bulgarian media wrote an ethical code of conduct and many of the media signed it. But our rich historical experience shows that the collective conscience does not lead to anything good. And if the Americans are worried about the freedom of media in Russia, they should be calm. As cynical this might sound, at least in Russia there are journalists who someone wants to kill, which means that they produce something invaluable like life itself. And in Bulgaria?